Charity fears loss of use after council cuts back on its business rate relief

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A CHARITY which provides subsidised meals for the over 50s fears it may lose a number of users after the council reduced its amount of rate relief.

Friends of the Old People (FOTOP) based in Middle Street, provide a cafe and activities for people from across the town.

One woman even travels in twice a week from Lydd in Kent.

At Monday’s cabinet meeting, the committee agreed to reduce business rate relief for 115 charitable bodies across the borough.

This means the council will be able to claw back around £40,000 a year.

It was allowing around £162,000 in rate relief every year. But now that figure has been reduced to around £121,000.

The council’s head of finance Peter Grace reminded the committee the authority’s funding from central government had been reduced by 39 per cent since 2010.

A report drafted by Mr Grace stated: “The council’s grant funding has been reduced by £4.95 million since 2010.

“It is estimated to reduce by £6.5 million by 2014/15.

“It is against this background that the review of discretionary rate relief is being undertaken to ensure that diminishing resources are matched to the council’s priorities in forthcoming years.”

Councillor Andrew Gurney put forward a motion asking for charity shops to be excluded but was turned down.

FOTOP will now lose around £200 a year in rate relief.

Treasurer Terry Steeples had presented a 40-name petition to the committee last month. He says he will now have to increase the cost of subsidised meals by up to 50 pence each which may deter some people from attending.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Steeples said: “We provide a three-course meal for around £2.80. Now we will have to put the price up by about 50 pence to cover the shortfall.

“But this might mean up to five centre users might not come any more or they may just have a cup of tea and toast instead of a full meal.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Gurney, said: “Charity shops are being unduly penalised. These shops raise money for some of the most vulnerable people in our town. The relief was only £4,000. Surely the council could have found the savings elsewhere.”